Marc Engel's Cram Fashion celebrates 10 years

Wed. March 20, 2019 11:54 AM

marc engel (l) and partner stephane gonzales (r)

photo credit // cram fashion

Cram Fashion anniversary party, March 21

Chicago, IL - Opening a Boystown boutique for high-end men's clothing in spring 2009 – as the Great Recession was beginning to hit the economy – might not seem like the best idea in hindsight. Yet the results speak for themselves as this month Cram Fashion, 3331 N. Broadway, celebrates 10 successful years of outfitting clients in all the basics – fitted t-shirt, hoodies, and thermals – plus head-turning items like patterned party blazers, sequined bowties, and designer wallets.

Owner and Founder Marc Engel, a third-generation retailer of high-end clothing and other merchandise, comes by this success naturally. "Growing up in Germany, I wasn't what you'd call a good student. More than anything, I loved being at my grandparents' business – sort of a combination retail shop and drug store – unpacking merchandise boxes as they arrived, arranging fragrances, and setting up makeup displays," says Marc. "That was my thing."

Eventually Marc took over the original store – at a prime corner spot in the business district of Kassel, Germany – and transitioned it into a luxury retail space for men's fashions. He managed that business for about five years before packing up go in 1998 to test his skills in the American retail market. Marc's initial foray into the U.S. was Chasalla, a fashion-forward European clothing shop for men and women – especially the "club" crowd of the late '90s – on Oak Street in Chicago's posh Gold Coast neighborhood.

Later, Marc moved north to Boystown with a new concept after identifying a need for a fashionably progressive retail shop catering to men who wanted quality, stylish clothing at reasonable prices as well as top-notch client service. "Boystown needed something better, a fresh approach," says Marc. CRAM was born.

Yet this hasn't been a solo project. Stephane Gonzales is partner to Marc both in life – the two were married in 2015 – and at CRAM, where Stephane is the Visuals Manager. Frequent shoppers will recognize Stephane as the guy behind the scenes in charge of in-store and window displays as well as event and holiday décor.

"As a visual person by nature and education, I manage the store's overall appearance," says Stephane. "When shoppers walk by, I want to stop them in their tracks. My favorite display was the Christmas we featured 300 nutcrackers – it was a stunning spectacle."

They make a good pair, with Marc's business acumen and knowledge of high-end retail coupled with Stephane's artistic flair and creative merchandising skills. "It's a perfect mélange," says Stephane, with a smile.

Marc, who also serves as President of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, credits much of CRAM's success to keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn constantly and change whenever necessary. "Never stop evolving," he says. "The moment you stop improving and changing with current trends is the moment you start to see setbacks.

CRAM debuted in 2009 as a single storefront in a former upholstery shop on Broadway then expanded in 2011 to two storefronts, and now Marc and Stephane are looking forward to the next 10 years – and beyond. "The CRAM team and I are always thinking about expanding," Marc says. "Above all, we are so thankful for our clients who support us and help us grow."

Follow CRAM on social media to see new merchandise as it arrives and to learn about exclusive deals and special offers:

10 Questions with Marc

Where did you grow up?

My boyhood home was Kassel, a small city in central Germany. Its original name long ago was Chasalla, the inspiration for the name of my first clothing store in Chicago.

What's your philosophy for success in the high-end retail clothing business?

Know your clientele and what will draw them in. We are running a business here, not a showroom, so it's important to pick items based on what clients will like rather than what Stephane or I might like personally. Always think like the client.

What does your German upbringing and sensibility bring to the business?

Structure, organization and – above all else – timeliness. I get that from my grandmother.

How did you come up with the name "CRAM"?

I get that question a lot, actually. CRAM is my first name spelled backward, an inspiration from Oprah's Harpo Studios.

Who's the store mascot?

That would be Dexter, our 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier. He also doubles as the store greeter!

Which fashion designers inspire you the most?

Tom Ford, Jill Sander, Ralph Lauren – and of course fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away in February.

Any hobbies outside of work?

Vintage European cars are my obsession, and we take road trips to classic car shows whenever we can. We own two Mercedes Benz autos – a '91 560 SEL and an '88 560 SL.

What are you proudest of at CRAM?

Simply put – I'm proudest we are still in business after a decade. We've created a pleasant environment for clients to shop, relax – maybe enjoy a glass or two of champagne – we maintain excellent relationships with our vendors, and we have a first-rate and creative staff.

How are you celebrating CRAM's 10-year anniversary?

In addition to what you're seeing here, we are planning a disco-themed party at CRAM on Thursday, March 21 from 8-10pm. Clients can expect hot models serving complimentary drinks, raffle prizes, great music and tons of special giveaways courtesy of our vendors!

Any final tips to share for the infrequent shopper?

Absolutely! Have your basics covered: a nice solid black stretch denim, basic slim-fitting shirts, a classy sport coat – and always make sure to include at least one stylish fashion piece in your wardrobe arsenal.

Article by Eric M. Sodorff